Attacks on journalists on the rise in Armenia
Eleven journalists in Armenia were victims of physical violence from April to June 2022. During the same period, 24 cases of violation of the right to information were recorded. Ashot Melikyan, Chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Freedom of Speech, gave these figures while presenting a new report on violations of freedom of speech and the rights of journalists. He also pointed out that no one had been held accountable for any of these violations.
Opposition street fighting and violence against journalists
Melikyan further said that from January to March, one case of physical violence against journalists was on record, while in April—June of last year there had been eight.
In Melikyan’s view, these attacks arise from the tense socio-political situation in the country. He believes it no coincidence that the number of attacks on journalists increased sharply in the second quarter of 2022, for it was during those months the opposition and its supporters took to the streets demanding the resignation of the prime minister:
“The period from April to June 2022 was quite busy. The radical opposition organized agitation. And ten out of eleven attacks on journalists were committed during this period. Another incident occurred in the country’s parliament.”
According to Melikyan, during scuffles between protesters and the police, both journalists and cameramen had been injured. Yet there were cases of targeted attacks against representatives of media.
He also elaborated on incidents of non-physical pressure on media and their employees. From January to March of this year twelve such incidents had occurred, and eleven from April to May. In the same period last year, 44 cases of pressure on journalists were filed.
“When the number of attacks rises, other types of pressure decrease,” the expert observed.
“The law has been violated, but the media avoid going to court”
According to the committee, from April to June of this year, 24 violations of the right to information had occurred, but a court case was opened for just one of them.
Ashot Melikyan explains that media consider going to court a waste of time.
Furthermore, from January to March 2022, there were 45 violations of the right to information. Melikyan acknowledges that this indicator is thus going down, but emphasizes that the situation remains alarming, as it is still difficult for journalists to receive information from government agencies:
“The situation is really very bad. There are times when the answer is delayed, so they refuse to provide information without any justification or with strange justifications. Not to mention vague answers that do not correspond to the issues.”
Ashot Melikyan brought up an amendment made in early June to the law “On Freedom of Information”. According to this amendment, state bodies that unreasonably refuse to provide information subject to publication face administrative punishment, a fine of 30 to 70 thousand drams (approximately $75-170).
He believes that if even a few of those committing these offenses are punished, it will have a chilling effect.
Regarding the spread of disinformation, the chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Freedom of Speech stated:
“If the authorities deal with the issue of disinformation, there will be much less of it in the media. Very often it is the lack of official information that makes some journalists or the media publish something based on assumptions or rumors. True, often this is done on purpose.”